This week feels little bit different for fans around the South and their college football teams.
It’s game week in the Southeastern Conference and that meant Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen taking to the podium to discuss preparations for the first game of the season. The Bulldogs’ ninth-year head coach has enjoyed plenty of success in non-conference play, but last year was an exception.
The Bulldogs started the season on a sour note against South Alabama as Mullen watched an extra point clank off an upright and fall innocently to the turf in a 21-20 loss. That’s made this year’s game all the more important for the Bulldogs who are hoping to start things off right against Charleston Southern at 3 p.m. on Saturday in Starkville.
The Buccaneers are going to make things difficult for Mullen and crew as new head coach Mark Tucker brings with him a mostly new staff. That’s made the prep work for them concerning.
“It’s a tough challenge with the team we have coming in,” Mullen said. “It’s a new coach and a new staff so you just have to piece together what they like to do. They have a quarterback that’s one of the best in FCS and they execute the offense very well.”
That quarterback is sophomore Shane Bucenell who threw for 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns a season ago while rushing for 325 yards and four touchdowns out of the option.
MSU has a young, talented and experienced running quarterback of their own returning in junior Nick Fitzgerald. After setting a handful of records a season ago, the biggest thing that the quarterback will add to this year’s team is his experience and attention to detail.
Mullen mentioned that not having to worry whether or not Fitzgerald is preparing for the game the right way is the biggest plus this season.
“He knows what to expect, how to prepare for game week and what it’s going to entail,” Mullen said. “I think that’s a big advantage he has over last year and adjusting how to really study and prepare for the game.”
Last season, at times, FItzgerald was stuck wondering how to be the next Dak Prescott. When he decided that he was going to be the first Nick Fitzgerald, everything else fell into place.
He’s used that same approach in the offseason to improve some of his intangibles. While mechanical improvements have been the most important fix, he’s also had to work on his leadership skills which he feels he has improved tremendously.
“I’ve just focused on things that I need to work on and get better at this year,” Fitzgerald said. “Camp was a lot different. Coming off a whole offseason as a starter there’s a big difference because you’re the guy.”
Bulldogs are healthy
While Mullen didn’t particularly care for the NCAA mandated off days that kept coaches away from players this summer, he was thrilled with the rest they got.
It kept his players healthy heading into the season opener with just one player out for the season and only two that Mullen reported wouldn’t play this week. One of those players was likely to redshirt anyway as true freshman safety Landon Guidry reported via his Twitter account last week that he sustained an injury that had him out for the season.
Mullen confirmed later that Guidry tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
Junior slot receiver Malik Dear also tore his ACL back during the spring and has recovered nicely heading into the season. Dear is on pace to play this season but Mullen said they won’t make a decision on whether to play him or not until a few weeks down the line.
What: Charleston Southern at Mississippi State
When: 3 p.m., Saturday
TV: SEC Network